This Christmas, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers take on the star-studded Golden State Warriors in the teams’ first matchup of the season, making for one of the most highly-anticipated NBA games of the year. The NBA Christmas slate also features games between the Bucks and Knicks, Thunder and Rockets, 76ers and Celtics, and Blazers and Jazz.
“It’s a huge day for us,” said Tim Corrigan, senior coordinating producer at ESPN. “It will be our highest-rated day of the year for the NBA, so we always circle it on our calendar. We always want to be the best version we can, but it’s one of those days we’re just going to have more people watching.”
ESPN will produce all five games on Christmas, as it has done for 17 straight years. The 13-hour lineup will include games on both ESPN and ABC, with “NBA Countdown” holding things down during pregame and halftime.
“It’s the best,” Corrigan said. “This is what we’re passionate about — this sport — so it’s great to know you can sit down and transition from game to game to game regardless of network. We cross back from ESPN to ABC anyway, and we don’t treat one differently than the other. We put our best foot forward because, to us, we go and do our job, and we get to be part of what’s fun and entertaining for fans.”
ESPN pulls out all of the stops for its Christmas production, between the “NBA Countdown” crew of Michelle Beadle, Paul Pierce, Jalen Rose and Adrian Wojnarowski, and the broadcast crews featuring big names like Chauncey Billups, Doris Burke, Hubie Brown, Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and P.J. Carlesimo. The production will even feature a special performance by musician Daveed Diggs, who starred in Hamilton.
“It’s become a must-watch thing for folks, even those who don’t follow the NBA very closely,” Corrigan said of NBA Christmas. “We pick up a bunch of outside fans — as we like to say, we like to be kind to the accidental viewer and get them up to speed. We let players be stars and document it the best we can.”
Corrigan and his crew make it a point to plan their productions with the viewers in mind, especially on Christmas.
“It’s worked out great with the league and the programming, with team matchups you want to see and players who resonate,” Corrigan said. “This year, players in all five games will be wearing microphones. Fans want that access, so we know that to take advantage of the huge audience, we need to do something a little more special, so we’re doing it across all of our games, starting with the Bucks and Knicks.”
Thanks to a competitive, drama-filled start to the NBA regular season, ESPN is already in peak form when it comes to producing games.
“We’re coming in at a really good place,” Corrigan said. “The games we have, people are really interested in them, at the teams hitting their stride or fighting through challenges. I think we’re in a great spot to capitalize on interesting stories… The great thing is, we’re a couple months into the season. From production to talent to engineering to operations, we’re in our groove of covering the NBA right now.”
The Christmas slate is particularly special because it appeals to everyone, from NBA die-hards to casual fans, according to Corrigan.
“I think the best thing for us is that, certainly, there is part of our audience that only watches at Christmas — they may be big football fans and they’re starting to transition to the NBA now — but there’s also a large part of our audience that has been with us since October, during our preseason Lakers/Warriors games,” he said.
Fans don’t have to wait until Christmas Day to enjoy the NBA festivities, though. ESPN’s “The Jump” will air a 90-minute Christmas preview special at 2 p.m. ET on Christmas Eve, hosted by Rachel Nichols with appearances by Scottie Pippen, Amin Elhassan, Nick Friedell and Marc Spears.
Between the preview special, five consecutive games, and pregame and halftime shows, the ESPN crew is taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to pull it all off.
“I have to give a big shoutout to everybody — talent, producers, directors, associate staff, engineering, operations — everybody who makes this day special for us,” said Corrigan.
“It’s hundreds of people across the board, from production to operations to engineering, just because each game is fully staffed with anywhere from a dozen to 20 cameras,” he added. “It’s a huge undertaking, and anybody who works on production, operations or engineering is working that day. It’s a source of pride to be a part of this, and to be asked to be a part of this.”